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November/December 2015 Sea Hero: Kurt Lieber


Ocean Defenders Alliance Founder Kurt Lieber

Patrick Strattner

Occupation Founder/executive director, Ocean Defenders Alliance

Diver Since Mid-1970s

Helped Establish California’s MPA network, which protects 16 percent of state waters, nearly 10 percent in no-take zones

Founded in 2000 amongst friends, Ocean Defenders Alliance now connects hundreds of divers and “deck volunteers” in its mission to protect California’s ocean treasures, especially from the deadly effects of ghost nets, equipment lost or abandoned by fishermen. For his efforts, founder and executive director Kurt Lieber is our November/December Sea Hero.

You have been involved in a lot of projects with Ocean Defenders Alliance — which has been the most meaningful to you, and why?

I started this organization in the year 2000, with some friends. Through the years, Ocean Defenders Alliance (ODA) has turned into a dynamic union, and we’ve had over 200 divers and hundreds more deck volunteers go out with us on various projects. In 2013, I contacted the people at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) to see if they would allow us to go into the sanctuaries and start removing ghost gear there. This area is a national marine sanctuary, national park and marine-protected area. As such, its biological importance — and sensitivity — is without question. After a lengthy qualification process, we were given a scientific collecting permit. We are the only all-volunteer group with this permit that I know of. That means a lot to me.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your fight against ghost nets and marine debris in general?

When I first started ODA, I couldn’t find anyone who knew about the damage that was being done by ghost gear. The Internet still wasn’t a tool widely used to gather or share information. So, I had a difficult time convincing the general public that this was a serious issue; marine debris is a good but dismaying example of the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” as far as public consciousness goes. Fast forward 15 years, and the tide is changing. There is now a great source of scientific information available that informs people with a lot of statistics. One that absolutely makes me cringe is that NOAA estimates that 330,000 whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and turtles die in ghost gear every year. The problem is that every year, the commercial fishing industry loses a staggering amount of gear (i.e., lines, nets, and traps). Consequently, our work is never done.

What’s been your most satisfying moment?

The vast majority of nets we locate and remove are made out of synthetic material, like nylon or mono-filament line. Scientists have estimated that nylon nets will last 650 years in the oceans. A net that is in the water for that long does no one any good. Animals are dying continuously, needlessly, and divers are losing what we all want to see alive, FISH! The fishing community loses as well because of decreased populations. To date we have removed approximately 21,000 pounds of these deadly nets. One of my most satisfying moments was pulling together a fantastic group of volunteers, and together we removed about 1,000 pounds of gill net from just one location. That does not sound like a lot, but think about that for a moment. What would a 1,000-pound pile of fishing line look like? Well, that is what some of these deadly derelict nets are made out of; it can be a huge, and hugely harmful, collection!

Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now?

It is a really exciting time for us right now. Not only are we continuing to clean more of California’s coastal waters, such as in the CINMS, we are also in the midst of establishing a new base in ODA in Hawai’i. As awareness expands through the dive community, we are getting a lot of interest from different areas of the U.S. that are inquiring about creating ODA bases all over the country — and we know that ALL coastal waters need the kind of service we provide. The Seattle/Portland area is looking promising for a future base as well.

How can divers and Scuba Diving‘s readers help further your work?

As anyone who has ever owned or been around a boat knows: Things are always needing maintenance, repair or replacement! We have the manpower and know-how, but we are constantly working to keep our boats running well and fueled up. So, to keep us at sea doing what we do best, donations are very welcomed. Another option is to start a removal project in areas where your readers come across debris. And I don’t mean only ghost gear. Plastics are a huge plague that we have got to address if we want to future generations to enjoy the wide variety of life forms that the oceans historically have supported. Want to know what the oceans looked like before the invention of the steam engine? Read The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts for a good dose of reality. In other words: Get educated and get involved! If this problem is going to be solved, we are the ones who are going to have to make it happen.

What’s next for you and Ocean Defenders?

We purchased a new (used) boat late last year, and we’ve been working on upgrades and repairs ever since. It is currently berthed in San Pedro, California. As soon as we are finished with this phase, we’ll be moving the boat up to the Channels Islands Harbor, and resume our removal projects in the Channel Islands.

What would you do with the $5,000 Oris award if selected for Sea Hero of the Year?

If I am selected for this honor, I will put the money directly into our boat in order to launch additional debris-removal expeditions. I have recently received reports of several marine debris sites throughout Southern California that urgently need our removal expertise. This award would allow us to travel further from our home port and get to sites we haven’t been able to reach because of the high costs of fuel, oil and boat maintenance.

Is there anything we did not ask that you would like readers to know about? Tell us what’s important to you!

I’ve been diving since the mid ’70 s, and have seen a drastic decline in biodiversity, water quality and wildlife sightings and interactions. Having witnessed this loss first hand is what drives me to do what I can, in my lifetime, to defend ocean life and habitats. Over the last 15 years or so, I have seen what marine-protected areas (MPAs) can do to help marine species bounce back. I was heavily involved in the state of California’s decision to create MPAs up and down our coast. While the scientists recommended that 30 percent of our waters be set aside as no-fishing zones, when all was said and done, we ended up with 16 percent of our state waters having some kind of protection, and only 9.4 percent of that is no-take. A far cry from what the science dictated for species’ survival. But it is a start. I would love to see our no-take areas expanded, not just in California but throughout the world. The effort we are putting into aquaculture as a “work around” for our diminished fish populations is like putting Band-Aids on a cancer patient. We must attack the root cause, which in this case is the threat to wildlife species and habitats caused by overfishing. Nature has proven time after time that she can heal herself if we leave her alone. MPAs are one of the few real remedies for our dying oceans.

Lastly, I want to leave readers with hope. Each of you reading this can make a difference; you must simply choose to become involved. You can educate yourself and others. You already possess the power to influence things for the better through your votes, your buying decisions, what you eat and where you invest your time and resources. All you have to do is join our alliance and be an Ocean Defender!

Eah Sea Hero receives an Oris Aquis Date watch valued at $1,595. At the end of the year, a panel of judges selects a Sea Hero of the Year, who receives a $5,000 cash award from Oris to further his or her work. Go to scubadiving.com/seaheroes to nominate a Sea Hero today.

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Sea Turtle Rescue Children’s Book Now Available

Children's Book: Sea Turtle Rescue

Eric Douglas

Check out the latest book by Eric Douglas!

Sea Turtle Rescue and Other Stories now available!

Eric Douglas — author of Scuba Diving‘s Lessons for Life columns and a number of books — has just released a collection of chapter stories for young readers from kindergarten to third grade. Sea Turtle Rescue and Other Stories includes four full-length chapter books in a single package. The stories follow Jayne and Marie, along with their friend Monique and Javier around their home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina as they learn about the ocean, history, science, sea turtles and sharks.

“When my girls were young, after reading innumerable Magic Treehouse books with them, I decided to write them their very own chapter books to read. The first story was Sea Turtle Rescue and sea turtles still hold a special place for us today. Over the years, I wrote three more stories,” Douglas said.

Three stories in the collection were published as part of the Newspapers in Education program, making them available in serial form for kids from all over the country to learn about the ocean. They were published in places as far apart as Bermuda and Iowa.

“These stories are great for kids (or grandkids) interested in the ocean. The two main characters are young girls, but boys like the stories as well. My step-nephews tell me how much they like the stories all the time.”

Sea Turtle Rescue and Other Stories is available in softcover for $10 and in ebook format for $5.99. The ebook is available through Kindle, Nook and most other ebook retailers.

You can find out more, or read reviews from Sea Turtle Rescue and Swimming with Sharks on his website at www.booksbyeric.com.

Two young girls move to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and learn about the ocean and life on the coast. There are four early chapter books in this collection, written for readers six- to nine-years-old. The stories are exciting but also include information on science, the ocean and history.

Sea Turtle Rescue is an ocean story about protecting sea turtles. When an injured sea turtle shows up near their home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Jayne and Marie, along with their friends Javier and Monique, search the beach to find the turtle’s nest and protect it from danger. They know the time is getting short and if they don’t find it soon, the eggs might not get a chance to hatch.

Fight for Fort Hatteras is a history story about the civil war. Jayne and Marie take a school trip to visit the site of a Civil War battle near their home on the Outer Banks. Marie wanders off and finds herself in the middle of the battle and afraid she may never see her family again.

Hurricane! is a science story on hurricanes hitting the coast. Jayne and Marie are faced with Hurricane Erin bearing down on their seaside town. Do they evacuate or stay with their father and protect the aquarium?

Swimming with Sharks is an ocean story about sharks and their value. Jayne and Marie love the ocean and enjoy spending time out on the water with their parents. For them, sharks are beautiful creatures, not something to be feared. But an up close and personal encounter makes Marie think twice.

For more information, contact Eric Douglas at 304-421-2203 or eric@booksbyeric.com or on his website at www.booksbyeric.com.


Book Release: Return to Cayman

Get Five Novels for the Price of One

Read Sharks on Land for Free Here!

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Maritime History: See What Wrecks Were Discovered in 2015

Corsair wreck at Marshall Islands

Brandi Mueller

Corsair wreck at Marshall Islands

New wrecks are being found around the world, and we’ve got the scoop.


Exploring one plane wreck is good — but 150 is better. That’s what awaits divers in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands, where more than 150 WWII aircraft were found in 130 feet of water. “They should have flown more, lived longer, but they were sunk in perfect condition,” Brandi Mueller tells guns.com. She discovered the site while diving of the coast of Roi-Namur in May 2015. Although this site is called a “graveyard,” these planes did not crash — rather they were pushed of a reef and into the ocean after the war.


Lost off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1794, this Portuguese slave ship drew the attention of researchers who spent years searching for it — recently, the authenticity of the São José-Paquete de Africa was confirmed by the Slave Wrecks Project, which educates the public about the global slave trade. Now over 200 years old, the São José-Paquete de Africa sank after it ran into submerged rocks about 300 feet from shore, killing more than half of the 500 enslaved people on board, while it was on its way from Mozambique to Brazil. Surviving slaves were sold shortly after the tragic wreck incident. Divers can also explore nearby reefs.


After more than 60 years on the bottom, the “amazingly intact” USS Independence has been discovered of California’s Farallon Islands, though its depth — 2,600 feet — makes it undivable. Using an autonomous underwater vehicle and a 3-D-imaging sonar system, researchers created a detailed image of the 623-foot vessel. Independence was an American aircraft carrier during World War II; it was a target ship in atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.


Two hundred feet down on Lake Superior’s bottom lies a 115-year-old ship with its name still legible — Nelson. Found intact, the 199-foot three-masted schooner sank during a storm in 1899 while transporting coal to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. While conducting a side-scan sonar search of the area, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society researchers discovered the wreck in August 2014.

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Spotted: Hammerhead Sharks in Florida Waters

Statues of Hammerhead sharks at Blue Heron Bridge

Tanya Burnett

Concrete shark statues weighing 1,500 pounds are a new attraction at Blue Heron Bridge.

Hammerhead sharks can now be found of the coast of Florida — the only downside: They’re not a very lively bunch.
On June 19, at Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Florida, three concrete shark statues, weighing 1,500 pounds each, were downed to attract divers and snorkelers alike. Created and paid for by artist Tom McDonald, each statue measures 5 feet in length, and all are easily accessible in 10 feet of water.

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Where To Dive With Mako Sharks

A close up of a mako shark

Chris and Monique Fallows/ naturepl.com

Mako Shark
Shortfin makos are found in temperate and tropical seas world wide.

Makos. They might look like skinny great whites, but these lightning-fast sharks are in a league all their own.

They’re not the biggest sharks in the sea, but they just might be the fastest — and the twitchiest.

Short fin mako sharks are sometimes described as miniature great whites on amphetamines. These toothy sharks look like a shrunken- down version of the ocean’s top predators, but they act totally different. While great white sharks slice slow, graceful circles around a diver, watching with an inquisitive eye, makos are twitchy sharks, hopped up on adrenaline, that blast through a chum slick, offering a split-second glimpse before they disappear into the abyss.

Thought to be the fastest sharks in the ocean, makos have an estimated top speed burst of about 45 mph. They can achieve these speeds thanks, in part, to their warm body temperature, which stays between 7 and 10 degrees warmer than the water and gives them energy. Like great whites, makos are known to jump out of the water, sometimes up to 20 feet in the air, though scientists haven’t found the driving force behind this behavior.

Makos are pelagic sharks that live throughout the world’s oceans, but there are only a handful of places where divers have reliable encounters with these incredible creatures.


Mako populations have been rebounding in recent years off the coast of San Diego, where free divers can join charters like those offered by SD Expeditions (sdexpeditions.com) for the chance to go cage-free with these impressive predators.


The remote islands of the Azores sit along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a vast underwater mountain range that cuts through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. From July to October, dive operators like CW Azores (cwazores.com) offer blue-water diving trips to swim with makos in the open ocean.


Most divers wouldn’t immediately think of Rhode Island as a shark-diving hot spot, but during the summer months, when the Gulf Stream moves close to shore, this stretch of New England coastline becomes a haven for makos and other sharks, as game fish move closer to shore. A number of fishing boats like Snappa Charters (snappacharters.com) now offer trips to see them in their element.


With a top speed of more than 45 miles per hour, shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) are thought to be the fastest shark species. They can be easily identified by their teeth, which are visible even when their mouths are closed. These sharks can have up to 18 pups at a time, and are listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable.


Shortfin makos are found in temperate and tropical seas world- wide, but San Diego, Azores and Rhode Island offer reliable encounters.


Makos can leap up to 20 feet out of the water, though scientists are unsure of the reason for this behavior. Makos are aggressive hunters that feed primarily on schooling fish like tuna, mackerel and swordfish.


They average between 6 and 9 feet in length.


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